The pandemic may have made online Parent-Teacher Conferences (PTCs) a necessity, but for many schools, they’re here to stay – and not just because of lingering restrictions in some parts of the world. Parents and teachers alike appreciate the flexibility online PTCs offer, and it’s particularly true for international families. Parents are able to attend meetings from wherever they are in the world, and all carers are more easily able to play an active role.

Nor are there are any of the logistical pain points associated with in-person PTCs – the rush, the parking, the weather, the disruption to parents’ work and family schedules. Dates and times can be flexible around teachers’ schedules, and the online format also makes it much easier to stick to timings, with no overruns. Crucially, it’s a format that also allows greater privacy, with none of the worry that conversations will be overheard by other families.

However, running these events across different locations, time zones and online platforms isn’t without its challenges. In this ‘How To’ guide, we’ll take you through all the things you’ll need to think about to prepare for a seamless online meeting experience for your parents and teachers.

1. Preparation is key

A successful online PTC starts with good planning, so think about how you’ll set up every aspect, from sign-up to sign-off. In particular, you’ll want to consider:

  • Appointment lengths: how long will you allow for each appointment, and will you have an interval time between each session so that teachers can catch their breath before moving onto the next one? If so, how long will that interval be? We’ve found that a 9-minute appointment session works well with a 1-minute interval, as this breaks each hour into neat 10-minute chunks.
  • Teacher breaks: how are you going to handle these? Will you set teachers’ breaks for them, or will you allow them to set their own? If you have a large school with hundreds of teachers, you’ll need to think about staggering the breaks group by group. If you do allow teachers to plan their own breaks, ask them to do this before opening up sign-up to avoid parents booking these slots.
  • Sign-up process: make sure the sign-up process is as easy as possible for parents, setting clear times and options and giving them as much choice as possible.
  • Double bookings: you’ll need to make sure teachers can’t get double-booked if they teach more than one subject (such as a teacher who teaches both art and French). Some schools may be happy for these appointments to be mixed, but some teachers may want to separate their subjects and deal with, for example, all their art students in the morning and all their French students in the afternoon.
  • Cancellations and missed meetings: will you allow parents to cancel appointments themselves? There may also be times when it’s a teacher who needs to cancel (if they’re sick, for example). When the unexpected crops up – such as technical issues – and either a teacher or parent misses a meeting, will you have a safety net, such as some contingency time slots set aside?

2. Communications in one place

As with any event, good communication is vital. If this is the first time you’re setting up an online PTC, it’s a good idea to invite parents using your usual parent channel(s) so that nothing gets missed. Let parents know when and how to book (where will they find the sign-up links?) and what to expect from their meeting (how long will each meeting be?). Make sure you have a clear way to confirm appointments – it makes no-shows less likely – and don’t forget to let parents know who to contact if they’re having problems connecting on the day.

3. The new online etiquette

Every school will probably have developed its own approach to online etiquette in the last couple of years, but think about:

  • Boundaries and expectations: online PTCs are effectively a virtual ‘home’ visit, so establish boundaries – such as video on or off and whether recordings are allowed.
  • Background and dress code: consider your school’s online meeting background and teacher dress code. While some like the personal touch of home surroundings visible, other teachers may not want their homes on display.
  • Attendees: how many attendees is too many? Should meetings be with the child’s primary carer only, or can grandparents or other family members be present?
  • Questions: when can parents ask questions? Throughout, or at the end? Nine minutes will go very quickly, so it may be better to make the most of the time and leave questions until the end.
  • Countdown timer ‘rules’: the meeting will cut off quite abruptly, so how are teachers going to wrap up the last 30 seconds?

4. Avoiding technical terror

Finally, technology doesn’t always run as smoothly as we’d like it to, so it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan in place for dealing with any tech issues for teachers or parents. This could include some back-up time slots for ‘failed’ meetings, as well as comprehensive training for all staff on the online platform you’ll be using.

With these steps followed and proper plans in place, you’ve done everything you can to ensure your online PTC is a seamless and stress-free experience for teachers and parents alike!